I am going to involve you all in my nerdiness today. Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the writings of one of my favorite authors – J.R.R. Tolkien. I’ve always found his mythology of Middle Earth particularly profound and inspired, full of life lessons. And this last week I was especially struck by a story that speaks to me of our purposes in life. It’s about a man named Tuor and his mission to the secret Elven city of Gondolin (from Tolkien’s lesser known works the Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales).
Here’s some backstory:
Now, in the early days of Middle Earth (long before the Lord of the Rings takes place), the mighty elf-king Turgon was worrying about how to protect his people from the evil powers that sought to destroy the elves. So with the help of the sea god Ulmo, Turgon designed a secret city he named Gondolin. It was to be a sanctuary for elves hidden in the mountains, a place of protection, where no one would know its location except those who lived within it.
But the god Ulmo warned Turgon that the city’s secret would not last forever, and in the future Gondolin would be destroyed by enemies.
Then Ulmo gave him this counsel:
“Love not too well the works of thy hands and the devices of thy heart; and remember that the hope of [the elves] lieth in the West, and cometh from the Sea….But if this peril draweth nigh indeed, then even from Nevrast one shall come to warn thee.” (The Silmarillion, p. 146)
And so Ulmo instructed Turgon on how to recognize this messenger: Turgon would create a set of armor to Ulmo’s specifications and leave it in a special hall in the kingdom of Nevrast. When Gondolin’s doom would draw nigh, Ulmo would send the messenger in the armor to Gondolin as the warning. So Turgon did as Ulmo said, leaving the armor in the deserted hall, and departed with all his people to Gondolin where they built the most important kingdom in the history of Middle Earth.
Nearly 500 years later, the time was coming near when Gondolin would be destroyed, and Ulmo prepared the young man he had prophesied would be his messenger: his name was Tuor.
The Call of Tuor
Tuor lived a difficult life. His father had been a friend to Turgon, and had died in battle saving the elf-king’s life. With no parents, Tuor was raised by strangers; he was later held captive by evil men, lived as a slave for three years, and finally escaped into the wild.
But already Ulmo’s plans for Tuor were being put into action, “for he had chosen Tuor as the instrument of his designs.” (TS p.285)
Wandering in the wilderness for some time, Tuor’s thoughts continually turned to one name: Turgon. Tuor would say, “[T]hough I know not why, ever his name stirs in my heart, and comes to my lips.” (Unfinished Tales p. 22) Tuor didn’t know much about the powerful and important king except his father’s friendship with him and the name and rumours of Gondolin. But he followed the impulses and inner whisperings that lead him northward in the direction of Turgon’s previous kingdom, Nevrast.
The Journey North
As he journeyed north, Tuor ran into a couple of elves. He asked them for directions, saying, “I know not whither to turn, for it has gone into darkness.” (UT p. 21)
“Through darkness one may come to the light,” replied one of the elves, who then told Tuor that he didn’t need to look any further – he was actually standing right at the tunnel leading to the land. Unable to accompany him all the way through, the elves left Tuor partway through the tunnel. Now this may not seem like a big deal, but this tunnel was in complete and utter darkness. But they encouraged him, “through darkness you shall come to the light.” (UT p. 21) And he did the only thing he could do: he pressed on.
“…he was alone in darkness deeper than night amid the roaring of the falls. Then summoning his courage he set his left hand to the rock-wall, and felt his way forward, slowly at first, and then more quickly, as he became more used to the darkness and found nothing to hinder him. And after a great while, as it seemed to him, when he was weary and yet unwilling to rest in the black tunnel, he saw far before him a light; and hastening on he came to a tall and narrow cleft, and followed the noisy stream between is leaning walls into a golden evening.” (UT p. 22-23)
Tuor had made it through the most difficult part of his journey, and his great mission was right at the horizon. He came to the sea and was lead (by some divinely-sent swans) to the castle of Nevrast where he found the armor left by Turgon. Feeling impressed to do so, he put on the armor (which happened to fit perfectly) and stepped outside into the waves of the sea.
A Message from the Gods
And then the god Ulmo himself appeared before him.
Ulmo explained that he had prepared Tuor and brought him to Nevrast for a special purpose and design. He told Tuor of Gondolin and of its impending destruction, and explained how Tuor was the chosen messenger to bring warning to Turgon and his city.
“I will put words in thy mouth to say unto Turgon,” he said to Tuor. “The last hope alone is left, the hope that they have not looked for and have not prepared. And that hope lieth in thee; for so I have chosen.”
“And what wouldst thou of me, Lord, if I come now to Turgon?” asked the overwhelmed Tuor. “For though I am indeed willing…yet of little avail shall I be, a mortal man alone, among so many and so valiant of the High Folk of the West.”
But Ulmo comforted Tuor:
“If I choose to send thee, Tuor son of Huor, then believe not that thy one sword is not worth the sending….[I]t is not for thy valour only that I send thee, but to bring into the world a hope beyond thy sight, and a light that shall pierce the darkness….Speak and fear not! And thereafter do as thy heart and valour lead thee.” (UT p. 29-30)
But Tuor had no idea where Gondolin was, and everyone who did know was forbidden to give directions. How on earth was Tuor supposed to do this?
An Aid for the Journey
So, to help, Ulmo provided a guide and companion – the elf Voronwë – to be his friend and to aid him in his quest. Tuor told Voronwë about his calling of the gods, and Voronwë agreed to help him, since it was a god who sent Tuor.
The two traveled many miles and faced many hardships, but when they finally reached Gondolin, the gate-keeper recognized Tuor’s armor and its significance and permitted him entrance into Gondolin, as was never done for any mortal man. Tuor was lead to the King and gave his message of warning (that the kingdom was in danger of destruction and that everyone should evacuate).
King Turgon was very impressed by Tuor and recognized him as Ulmo’s messenger…but “at the last he rejected the bidding of Ulmo and refused his counsel.” (TS p. 288) Turgon instead barred the gates allowing none to leave the city.
And so Tuor lived in Gondolin for a short period of time (before its destruction). He fell in love with King Turgon’s daughter and married her (only the second of three times in all of history that a man married an elf).
But ruin did come to Gondolin. The elves’ great city was discovered by its enemies and was invaded by all kinds of monsters and evil armies. King Turgon along with most of the population died in its destruction, but Tuor and his family managed to escape and reach the sea. There, a dwelling of great shipwrights was built up again under Tuor.
Legacy of Heroes/A Light in Darkness
But even more important was Tuor’s family – his son, Ëarendil (through his own adventures) became the savior of elves and men from dark lords and enemies, and was elevated by the gods to become a literal star in the night sky – the most important star, in fact, shining through the darkness.
Tuor’s grandson was the mighty elf Elrond (who fought against the evil lord Sauron and sent Frodo on his quest to destroy the ring), and Tuor’s great descendant was Aragorn (the mighty king of Gondor and friend of Frodo in Lord of the Rings).
And so it was true that Tuor brought into the world “a hope beyond sight,” and a light that pierced the darkness.
Here’s the Lesson for Us
So why did this story strike me as relevant to us? I mean, there’s a lot of talk in there about elves and gods and secret cities and who knows what. But in the end, Tuor’s life comes down to this: he was a normal guy called by the Divine to do remarkable things.
And what it took to get Tuor from ordinary to extraordinary was simply his following the guidance that God gave him.
At first he didn’t know what he was doing, or why. But eventually his life’s purpose was unveiled before him, and he followed through on it – even though it was daunting and absurd. And following that plan led him to even greater things and greater purposes (like his family).
We Each Have a Mission
Isn’t it the same with us? We are all here, called by the Divine to do different things, follow different paths, and bring about good in ways perfectly suited to us. We each have a mission.
God has a design for us. But half the time, we don’t really know what that plan is (at least not yet). We have hints along the way though to tip us off – desires (like Tuor’s to meet Turgon) that God places within us to guide our way. Sometimes we get a moment of illumination – God figuratively rises up out of the sea and tells us straight what He wants us to do. And when we do those things – no matter how silly or unimportant or frightening they seem – we discover a little more of our destiny and design.
And here’s another thing:
Tuor’s journey was marked by hard things and darkness. It was hard! Ulmo didn’t exactly make it easy on the poor guy. But Tuor trusted that he would reach the light, that good was in his future, and that things would work out. He just kept going forward – following the impressions, feeling along the tunnel wall, delivering the message.
Our lives are hard too. The difficulties are unique to each person, but no one has it easy – not when it comes to doing what we are meant to do. But you know, God never intended it to be easy. I like to think that we need to become the people that can do the right thing when it’s hard – because that’s how we become strong, courageous and heroic.
Strength, courage and heroism are developed like muscles – by resistance and doing hard things. And God will always give us the help to develop those traits – whether through companions, or a power booster, or whatever.
Tuor is a remarkable hero to me because he did everything he was asked to do. No, his message was not well-received, but that in no way diminishes his role. In the end, Tuor’s success is not marked by how well his message was received, but by how dedicated he was to God’s plan for him. His success came in his obedience to God’s designs for his life.
So what are the whisperings in your heart? Where would God lead your destiny? If you follow those signs, your fate will be like Tuor, to “bring into the world a hope beyond thy sight, and a light that shall pierce the darkness.” And if Tuor has anything to show for it, your life too will make one great story.
The Silmarillion, Second Edition Paperback, 2002.
Unfinished Tales, Mariner Books.
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